High Schools not playing yet? Kids still finding options to get on the field

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, like many school systems throughout North Carolina, have not yet begun summer workouts for high school sports.

With school activities on pause, some area student-athletes are still finding ways to get into the game this summer, in part to fight boredom, stay sharp and to find new ways to get recruited for college.

For the past several weeks, for example, some of the area’s best high school basketball and football stars have participated in 7-on-7 football and travel basketball events in South Carolina. There’s also been live baseball and track events in the area. Sunday, VTO Sports is expecting more than 150 football players for its Elite 100 Showcase Camp at the Matthews SportsPlex.

For 17-year-old Olympic High football player D.J. Bradford, there’s no question about participating, even during a pandemic.

“My whole household has been worried about the COVID thing,” Bradford said, “but I’ve got to take advantage of my opportunities when they come. I’m a rising senior.”

Bradford, like most football recruits, lost his spring workout sessions and wasn’t able to go to college campus for summer camps, where prospects can do drills in front of coaches, days that often lead to scholarships — or the start of relationships that could lead to one later.

Instead, Bradford has been stuck in the house wondering what could happen.

“It’s hard,” he said, “not knowing.”

In Myrtle Beach, playing ball is ‘absolutely fabulous’

The story is the same in basketball.

The NCAA Live Periods — where college coaches can come watch recruits in person — that usually happen in April, June and July were all knocked out by the pandemic. The NCAA’s current dead period ends Aug. 31, and there’s a small chance that a Live Period could be scheduled in September, but with COVID-19 cases rising rapidly nationwide, that doesn’t appear likely.

So that means high school recruits, particularly rising seniors, will miss a big opportunity to land a scholarship.

“In today’s world, things have changed more than ever,” said Big Shots basketball founder Jeff Schneider, who annually hosts summer travel events throughout the East Coast. “There’s never been a recruiting situation like this at all because there’s never been a time period like this, when college coaches aren’t flying out and everything’s on tape or on Zoom of whatever it may be.”

On June 15, S.C. COVID-19 guidelines allowed youth sports organizers and recreation departments to begin holding events, with or without spectators. Thursday, Schneider hosted his first basketball tournament of the season in Myrtle Beach. The event drew 80 teams in the 14U to 17U age groups and the event was streamed for college coaches and updates were sent via social media constantly.

Schneider said coaches are beginning to make scholarship offers based on streams or film from these summer events.

In Myrtle Beach this week, everyone had to wear masks to get in and have their temperature checked. Big Shots also had a court monitor to constantly remind everyone to keep their masks on. Players and officials were allowed to remove the masks. There were a limited number of spectators allowed and the multi-court Myrtle Beach SportsCenter was emptied after games to allow for cleaning before a new round of games began.

On the sidelines, the benches were replaced with individual chairs spaced in a zig-zagged pattern six feet apart. The stands were marked with blue tape for social distancing and only families were allowed to sit together.

“It’s been absolutely fabulous,” Schneider said. “Myrtle Beach has done a wonderful job. Colleges have been able to watch it online. There are so many really talented people just trying to get exposure. It’s hard to do right now.”

Rock Hill event sells out fast

Teammates Basketball founder Blake Thompson knew he was onto something when his Teammates National Tournament event sold out in two weeks. He’s brought 184 teams from second grade to 12th to the Rock Hill Sports & Events Center this week.

“It went fast,” Thompson said Friday, between games. “It told us that there was pent-up demand, and we wanted to get back to it as safely and as practically as possible.”

Like Schneider in Myrtle Beach, patrons and players at Thompson’s tournament must wear masks at all times, unless they’re playing. Thompson said there is a 20-point checklist that includes temperature checks and fewer fans than normal.

And Thompson said he’s noticed one thing most of all — the smiles.

“I see it in the players’ faces,” he said, “and the parents, too. I’ve been in the tournament business for a long time and these things are competitive and intense, and in terms of operations and guidelines and things, we’re working hard to abide by safety, but running this has been easy because you can tell people are grateful to be out playing and it’s meaningful to us that they’ve come.”

NCHSAA concerns, and recruiting hope

N.C. High School Athletic Association commissioner Que Tucker was asked this week if she was concerned that many high school athletes were spending their weekends playing club sports.

“I can’t control what mommas and daddies allow their children to do on the weekends or in the summer as it relates to outside activities,” Tucker said. “Yes, it’s concerning, especially if we’re not practicing the three Ws (masks, social distancing, hand washing). I’m concerned that then these young people may show up for their daily monitoring for a workout at school (with COVID). Hopefully we can catch that and they would not be allowed at a workout where they might spread that virus. That’s not something I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to fix, because I can’t.”

In Mecklenburg County, VTO founder Vince Jacobs said he’s trying to make sure that Tucker has little to worry about.

All athletes must fill out a pre-screening questionnaire and remain in their cars until camp registration begins. Check-in will be done in groups and everyone must wear a mask and receive a temperature scan by three nurses who will be on site to assist with all aspects of registration and screening.

Athletes will be divided into position groups and remain with those groups throughout the day, and ball carriers must wear gloves. Quarterbacks have to bring one football, which will be sanitized prior to use.

Also hugging and high-fives are not allowed.

Jacobs said that several national recruiting media outlets will be on site to provide exposure and the top five players at each position will receive an invite to his All-American camp later this year.

“The only reason I considered doing this was to give kids a chance to get out and enjoy themselves,” Jacobs said. “A lot of seniors are getting no exposure and the goal here is to get their names out there, get on the radar, and maybe get a scholarship.”

Olympic High’s Bradford said that’s exactly why he’ll be in Matthews Sunday.

He said he’s gotten interest from UNC-Greensboro, Newberry and a few other Division II schools, but with a senior season that could get delayed, interrupted or canceled altogether, he wants to get as much new film as he can — and to take advantage of a chance to play in front of national scouts.

“I’ve been trying to get exposure,” he said, “and there’s not a lot of camps going on right now. I feel like this is necessary.”

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